What the San Francisco Food Bank (@SFFoodBank) Taught Me about Volunteerism #GivingTuesday

November 27, 2012

#GivingTuesday: November 27, 2012

Today, November 27, 2012, is #GivingTuesday. Learn more about #GivingTuesday and consider getting involved.


The San Francisco Food Bank

Recently, I volunteered at the San Francisco Food Bank (@SFFoodBank). I joined the Northern California chapter of my college’s alumni association and spent two hours sorting, packing and sealing one-pound bags of rice.

The rice would be going to partner organizations, to be prepared and served on Thanksgiving. Volunteering at the food bank was quite rewarding — and at the same time, it taught me a number of things about volunteerism. Let’s explore further.

1) Together, we can solve big problems.

Volunteers in the kitchen of the San Francisco Food Bank

Image: My volunteer group at San Francisco Food Bank.

I was delighted to see well over 60 volunteers participate in our volunteer session. In addition to our alumni group, there were college students, individuals and families. Broad and complex issues exist (e.g. hunger, homelessness, etc.) but together, with the spirit of volunteerism, I think we can make a difference.

2) Break large and complex problems into solvable chunks.

Food Banking graphic

Image source: The Global Food Banking Network.

A fairly sophisticated supply chain helps to feed the hungry. Suppliers donate food items to food banks, volunteers help process and package the donated food, the food banks distribute the food to partner organizations and the partner organizations prepare the food and provide them directly to those in need.

In addition, national and global organizations exist to provide services across entire networks of food banks. One such example is Feeding America. So in short, no one organization does it all. Instead, organizations exist inside a supply chain and play a particular role. They receive input from another organization and drive output (which becomes input to yet another entity).

At the San Francisco Food Bank, we used another sort of supply chain, in the form of an assembly line. The volunteers at each table had defined roles:

  1. Pour rice from large bags into a bin.
  2. Approximate one pound of rice (into a bag).
  3. Measure the bag to precisely one pound.
  4. Seal the bag.
  5. Confirm the seal and pack the bags into a box.
  6. Seal the boxes.

3) Be specific about the impact of volunteering.

While sorting and sealing the one pound bags of rice, we were told that rice would be prepared and served on Thanksgiving. So each bag that we packaged could feed one person (or more). At the end of our shift, we were told that the group collectively packaged 3,360 one-pound bags of rice.

So we did a small part in helping thousands of people get a Thanksgiving Day meal. Knowing the specific impact of your effort makes the volunteering more rewarding – and, encourages you to come back again. Next time, perhaps, you’ll sort meats that will go to feed thousands more.

Similarly, I love the model of DonorsChoose.org, a web site that accepts donations for specific classroom needs (posted by the classroom teacher). With charitable giving, you sometimes don’t know where your donation is going. With DonorsChoose, it’s just the opposite, as your donation funds a particular need – and, you’ll even receive a progress report from the classroom.

4) Be specific about the impact of donations.

Three ways you can help the SF Food Bank

Speaking of donations, food banks depend on financial donations. And right up front, the San Francisco Food Bank tells you the impact of your donation: “For every $1 you donate we’ll distribute $6 worth of food!”

Similarly, Feeding America shows different donation amounts, along with the number of meals they can purchase:

Make a difference by donating to Feeding America

Image source: http://feedingamerica.org/about-us/mission-and-values.aspx

5) Encourage participation by groups.

I performed my volunteer shift along with my college’s alumni group. I also saw families (including kids!) and groups of college students. Encouraging volunteerism via groups is a win/win, as more people participate, which means that more people go home and spread the word. In addition, a group volunteering activity can bring the group (i.e. a family) closer together.


Volunteering at the food bank convinced me that we can make an impact on the world, a dent in the universe. This Thanksgiving, in fact, the San Francisco Food Bank delivered over one million pounds of food! The great thing about volunteerism is that it’s so easy to get involved. If you don’t have time, consider donating money. If you don’t have money to spare, consider sparing some time.

Note: I invite you to connect with me on .

Can I Get A Woo Hoo For Virtual Events?

February 7, 2011


At department stores and supermarkets, I’m often asked to make a small donation to a charity at the cash register.  Truth be told, I often choose not to donate. The other day, however, I encountered a scenario in which 100% of customers donated – and, I went to the checkout counter asking if I could donate.

How They Did It

The store was able to accomplish this with a fairly simple tactic.  After each donation, the cashier would get on the loud speaker and proclaim, “We just got another donation to the American Heart Association! Can I get a woo hoo?”  The request was then followed with a loud “woo hoo!” from a number of people.  While shopping, customers would hear these announcements every few minutes.

How could I possibly relate this to virtual events? Well, like an email promotion for your virtual event, the donation was a call to action, in which potential donors needed to understand the value of taking action. Let’s consider some of the particulars.

Be Different

Announcements over the loudspeaker have been done before, but the use of the “woo hoo” was different.  Every time the “woo hoo” was announced, I got a chuckle out of it and other customers did as well.  While requesting a “woo hoo” for your virtual event may not be effective, consider ways in which your marketing and promotion can stand out from the many emails in everyone’s inbox.

Reward Users

Give value back to your users.  For the donation, the reward was very basic and yet, customers continually opted to receive it.  When I approached the cash register, I told the cashier that their “system” was quite clever.  Her response was, “So, do you want your woo hoo?” The donation, while important, become secondary to the acknowledgement.

Involve Your Team

At the store, managers had party horns – when a “woo hoo” was announced, the managers would yell “woo hoo!” and then blow the party horns.  It felt like a New Year’s Eve party and the horns added to the awareness and fun.  For a virtual event, encourage your team to share and promote the event within their social circles, both offline and online.  With the vast reach of social networks in the online world, your own team can make a big difference.

Make Participation Infectious

This can be challenging to achieve – after all, you just can’t “make a video go viral”.  That being said, I believe that our natural inclination is to “follow the herd”, which is one reason the donation did so well.  People donated because everyone else was.  But, it had to be easy (the donation was simply added to your purchase at the register) and it had to be well promoted and shared (the loudspeaker).  With these elements in place, along with “being different”, the store got every single customer to donate.


Instead of doing the same thing over and over when marketing your virtual event, consider new and creative ways to involve your audience, reward them and keep them coming back.  If you can achieve infectious participation, you won’t need to send out as many email blasts.

%d bloggers like this: